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The small team at Acuitas Therapeutics helps foster openness and transparency between employees.Provided

Beyond a doubt, Vancouver-based Acuitas Therapeutics, Inc. punches above its weight.

It is the global leader in developing lipid nanoparticle (LNP) delivery technology for nucleic acid therapeutics and vaccines such as ribonucleic acid (RNA) and messenger RNA (mRNA). The private company’s LNP is essential in transporting treatments to the body’s cells for an array of daunting ailments, most notably COVID-19: the firm partnered with Pfizer/BioNTech in the development of the COMIRNATY® mRNA vaccine.

Acuitas is also working with its pharmaceutical, biotech, academic and NGO partners to develop therapeutics for other challenging diseases, including malaria, HIV and tuberculosis, as well as personalized vaccines for cancer.

Acuitas has historically kept a low profile. “We collaborate with organizations around the world and, in comparison to them, we’re really tiny – they may have thousands of employees while we have approximately 80 people including co-op students and interns,” says president and CEO Thomas Madden, a PhD in biochemistry who co-founded the firm in 2009 with two fellow scientists.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we worked with many companies, but outside of the industry, few had heard of us. The pandemic really raised our profile.”

For research scientist Razvan Cojocaru, who joined Acuitas in 2021 after completing a PhD in molecular biology focusing on mRNA research, joining Acuitas has been a dream come true.

“This is my first job out of Simon Fraser University,” he says. “Science is fun, and Acuitas makes sure of that. Everyone is dedicated to a common goal and we have fun doing it. My friends say it’s unreal and I should never leave the company. I’ve hit the jackpot.”

Madden notes that he and his Acuitas co-founders deliberately created that sort of culture. “At the start, it was a small team of six people who had worked together in other companies, and we stayed at less than 10 people for many years,” he continues. “We naturally had an openness and transparency that a small organization like that will bring, where everybody’s opinion was respected and everybody’s input was valued.

“I think everyone at Acuitas loves the science, but the true motivation is knowing we are working together on something that could make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Acuitas also goes out of its way to foster esprit de corps and open communication. “In my first few months, I was shadowing people from other departments to understand how their work happens and how it connects with what I do,” Cojocaru recalls. “And every quarter, our CEO has an open ‘coffee chat’ with the entire team.”

The company is quite social as well, he adds, citing events such as white-water rafting with his department, company-wide kayaking days or fielding a team for an annual bike ride to raise money for cancer research.

Meanwhile, Acuitas continues to push boundaries to save lives.

For example, working with one of its global partners, scientists at Acuitas helped to enable the first human proof-of-concept for genome-base editing to treat heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HeFH), a deadly genetic disease. The partner recently published initial clinical data showcasing positive results. Work on this and other ground-breaking projects continues.

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